I once read that the only ‘duty’ in the garden in August is water, water, water.  I believe that summer can be hot any time Mother Nature decides she wants to warm things up.  With most of California experiencing ongoing drought and possible water rationing, I thought I’d do a posting on what water conservation measures have worked in my garden.

We live within 6 miles of the ocean (as the crow flies).  There is a range of hills between us and the sea that makes our climate just slightly warmer than ‘living at the beach’.  However, we do experience Mother Nature’s natural air conditioning (the ocean breezes) most of the time.  Since it is 6-8 degrees warmer in my yeard than the temps along the coast I find I have to water at least 3 times a week.  Potted plants need more than that.  There are a few things I do that help keep the plants cool and safe from intense heat.

One of the simplest things to do is to keep your soil well cultivated.  I’m not talking about a deep cultivation rather a shallow 1-2″ cultivation of the top soil.  This will allow water to soak into the soil.  If your soil develops a hard, cracked surface you’ll have more run-off when you water, wasting the water and your time.  I cultivate on a rotation basis since it takes a bit of time but I enjoy not only the weed control it allows, but the way the garden looks once I’m  finished.

The second thing you can do is to mulch around the base of your plants.  I purchase organic compost to mulch with that way I am adding nutrients to the soil when I spread the mixture.  Be careful when you do this, especially around annuals and vegetables.  You don’t want mulch too close to these plants and you want to keep an even spread of the mulch to 1/2″ to 3/4″ thickness.  If you have clay soil this will work wonders on breaking up the clay over time.  You will have to do it annually to see results but it will be well worth it.

With the exception of California native plants and well established drought-resistant plants, all  plants need regular watering this time of year.  Soil should be allowed to dry out a bit between watering.  Water between 4:00 AM and no later than 4:00 PM to avoid mildew on roses.  You should not water during the warmest times of the day as you will loose some of the moisture to evaporation.  Sometimes I water both morning and evening on the same day, watering for a shorter amount of time, and find it soaks in better than a longer period of watering once a day.  Experiment with your yard and see how your plants respond.

For additional tips on working in the garden I recommend Pat Welch’s “Southern California Gardening” book, available at Amazon.com.